Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The film begins with a transition, though the emphasis is on birth: the champagne bottle tumbles slowly through space, moving clockwise and at times resembling the turning hands of a clock, a mesmerizing depiction of time—until it smashes against the hull of a new starship, launching the Enterprise-B.

Members of the old Enterprise crew—Kirk, Scotty and Chekov—are coming aboard for the ceremony. With perfect, gently satirical pitch, they are met with a media frenzy, and gushed over by the new and younger crew as “living legends”—that is, living fossils, no longer of use except as symbols of their past.

A major subtheme immediately emerges, when Chekov introduces Kirk to the new Enterprise helm, Sulu’s daughter: a transition literally from one generation to another, which reminds Chekov of his age and past (“I was never that young,” he observes, and Kirk responds, “No? You were younger.”) It reminds Kirk of how he used his time, or rather, how he didn’t use it: he never had a family. Facing Sulu’s grown child, he is facing a nasty quality of time—once it is past, it is gone forever. Kirk can fix many things, and even cheat death. But he can’t become young again and live his life again differently so that he would have the company of a family, now that he's lost the family of his ship and crew. “Finding retirement a bit lonely, are we?” Scotty says, tactlessly but accurately.

There is a tension between the generations, seen on this bridge. The younger generation is now in charge, and views the older with awe but also with some insecurity, and paradoxically, with a certain dismissiveness that older people in this society often experience: because they are not young, and especially if they are officially “retired,” then they are irrelevant and even incapable.

Given the situation, it’s appropriate that the older generation is seated off to the side—but Kirk can’t help wanting to be back in the Captain’s chair, while Captain Harriman (Alan Ruck) can’t help glancing at Kirk’s reactions to what he’s doing. When Harriman insists that Kirk give the order to “take us out,” the applause is genuinely honoring, yet also dismissive, as if this is all the living legend can still manage to do. ("Take us out" was also the order Kirk gave upon assuming command of the refitted Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture--which also made his need to command the Enterprise a theme.)

But then, something happens. Two transport ships are caught in what appears to be an energy ribbon. The Enterprise, out for a p.r. spin around the solar system but largely unequipped for duty, is the only starship within range to respond. Harriman is cautious but tries what he can think of, with no success. One of the transports explodes. Harriman asks Kirk for help, and Kirk practically leaps to his aid. He counsels getting within transporter range and beaming aboard threatened passengers. Harriman worries that the Enterprise will be endangered by contact with the ribbon (which it will be) but Kirk makes the perfect observation : “Risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair.”

It’s vintage Kirk, and in its way, an explanation for his life, but to risk everything he must minimize what he has to lose, like a family. For him, remaining unencumbered was part of being Captain—or at least, Captain Kirk.

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